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A Russian emblem for International Polar Year (official site)
March 1, 2007 -- Scientists and governments are kicking off the UN-backed International Polar Year today, a worldwide effort to study the Earth's polar regions amid heightened concerns about global warming.
The UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the nongovernmental International Council for Science are sponsoring the event, which brings together some 50,000 people carrying out 220 research and outreach projects.
WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said International Polar Year "comes at a crossroads for the planet's future."
The project gets under way shortly after a major UN climate report in January warned that the poles are particularly vulnerable to global warming.
The report projected that sea ice in the Arctic could disappear in summers within a century, and that melting polar ice means rising sea levels worldwide.
Three other Polar Years have been observed since 1882.